Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Flags: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Summer travel is here, and I'm going to try to write three posts about the flags of three different states I will visit within as many weeks. I'm currently sitting in a hotel room in Pennsylvania, the first of those three states. It is also one of the four states of the Union that officially are known as commonwealths. Score +5 nerd points if you can name the other three.

In my State Flag Manifesto, I wrote that 23 of the state flags are totally uninspired, being composed only of the vexillological cop-out of plopping the state seal on a color field. Lame. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania dodges that bullet - although just barely - by putting its state coat of arms, rather than the seal, on a blue field. The state motto, found in the banner at the bottom of the coat of arms, is "Virtue, Liberty, and Independence." I think the motto ought to be "Our Flag Has Horsies On It." Speaking of state seals, though, the Seal of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is - oddly enough - ringed with the words "Seal of the State of Pennsylvania." Maybe the Keystone State would be better nicknamed The Identity Crisis State.

Still, Pennsylvania has some excellent state symbols. The state fossil is Phacops rana, a species of everybody's favorite Paleozoic arthropod, the trilobite. Apparently its bulging eyes reminded someone of a frog's, leading to the specific name rana. The state fish is the brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, a fine-looking resident of the Keystone State's spring-fed streams. The identity crises continue insofar as S. fontinalis is actually a species of char, not a true trout - but it's close enough for government work.

Best of all Pennsylvania has two official state locomotives, both formerly operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad: the steam-powered K4s (a 4-6-2 locomotive used to pull passenger trains), and the electric GG1 Number 4859, which hauled freight and wartime troop trains. Makes me want to visit Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, where the National Park Service runs a locomotive shop, excursion trains, and other steam railroad nerdosity.

Finally, the Keystone State scores major points for the mosaics in the rotunda of the state capitol. Among other things are a turtle (looks like a common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina) and a skunk (probably a striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis). Win.

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